Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Search Insider: Search Behavior Reveals Personal Impact Of U.S. Financial Crisis

Search Behavior Reveals Personal Impact Of U.S. Financial Crisis

Yesterday, comScore released a survey that tracked an increase in searchers using terms related to the economic crisis in the major search engines.  The premise of the research was that the current economic situation is impacting search behavior, and is a direct reflection of important issues to searchers.  Overall, this research, along with data from Google Trends, makes a good case that the U.S. mindset really is changing.

Among the most notable terms, "coupons" has risen from a sample of 7,637,000 searches in 2007, to 19,921,000 searches in December 2008, with a change frequency of 161%. While the research stops short of trying to interpret the specific intentions within such a broad term, it does seem to indicate that searchers are thinking more in terms of saving and budgeting.  The term "unemployment" rose 206% during the period, from 2,688,000 searches to 8,214,000, likely due to rising fears about employment realities searchers are facing.  The word "discount" increased 26% in frequency, also underscoring the trend that U.S. citizens are tightening up their spending and looking for better deals.  Other terms also included:

"Mortgage": 72% increase, from 4,518,000 queries, to 7,756,000
"Bankruptcy": 156% increase, 1,012,000 queries to 2,589,000
"Foreclosure": 67% increase, 824,000 queries to 1,373,000
"Unemployment benefits": 247% increase, from 215,000 to 748,000

Comscore also noted that the term "unemployment" skewed younger and towards a lower income range than other terms, and that these searchers were more likely to use Yahoo Live or than Google search.  The period of December 2007 is compared with December 2008 for all queries, and is pulled from a U.S. search audience.

While it is interesting to see these increases in broad generic terms, I dug a little deeper around a few additional terms in Google Trends to see if there are any other insights into more specific search behavior around the individual plight and economic concerns of searchers.  While Google Trends does not offer search volume in quantity, there is an uptick in 2008 for the phrase "restaurant coupon."  "Foreclosure help" appeared on the radar in 2007, and has ballooned up through 2009.

  "Responsibility" is consistent,  "luxury" has declined between Q4 of 2007 and 2008 in the U.S., and "economy" in general is much more top-of-mind.

The more I looked at these terms, the more apparent it became that the deeper story and pulse of what is keeping people up at night is in the longer-tail queries, from two to six words or more per phrase, and the analysis of those phrases.  Of course, one does not need to look at search data to see the impact of the economy on ourselves and the people around us.  Search is just a simple reflection of what we are all thinking, and it is natural that these patterns would follow.  

Read the full comScore release here.

Rob Garner is strategy director for digital marketing company iCrossing and writes for Great Finds, the iCrossing blog. Contact him via email at

Search Insider for Wednesday, February 25, 2009:

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